‘Crying out’ by Kevin Murphy

Here’s Kevin’s piece from the 3rd March trigger ‘Gear change’

‘Crying out’ by Kevin Murphy

We were playing in the sandpit, Little Madam and me.

Somebody was crying.

I went to the back door. ‘Mamma. Somebody’s crying’.

Mamma came to the door. She could hear her.

‘Daddy!’ she shouted, ‘somebody’s crying, out over Jarvis’s.’

Daddy stands at the back door. ‘That’s “Help, Help” isn’t it? Sounds like a woman.’

He runs to the back gate. Mamma runs after him.

We run after Mamma.

Daddy can’t get the gate open. He throws my train. He throws Madam’s trike.

Daddy’s in the lane.

We are all at the gate – I stand against the post and Madam holds Mamma’s pinny.

All down the Lane, men at their gates, listen to the cries for help.

They run. The run across the lane, across the field, towards a point in the big hedge along old Jarvis’s farm.

The first one disappears in the hedge.

A shout. He runs out. The men all shout and run along the hedge to get to the farm-gate.

Mums and kids stand in the lane.

I cry for the poor lady.

Madam laughs at me.

I poke her.

Mamma lifts her up.

She looks at Daddy running.


The lady still cries, but we cannot see the fathers any longer. They have disappeared along the boundary fence and probably clambered into the farm. Mothers gather up the little ones and move together into huddles. There is some whispering and more attention and concern is displayed to the infants.

A mother sidles towards the side lane to improve her view of the men, to gain first impression of safety … or menace.

The rescuers reappear and the first couple give a wave to the gathering on the Lane.

The lady still cries out so the women look from one to another. I see Daddy and Mamma lets me run towards him.

I career into his arms. He gathers me up into his arms, laughing and kissing me.

‘Stop laughing at the poor lady, Daddy,’ I say patting his head.

‘What a ridiculous father you have Kevin.’ He looks around and shouts at the other men who are all panting and laughing and waving to their arriving wives and families.

‘We weren’t to know!’

‘Naagh, we couldn’t chance it.’

‘So frightening – real wasn’t it.’

‘ ’ark at the stupid thing – took no notice of us!’

‘Old Jarvis shoulda told us.’

‘Told you what, Daddy?’ asked Mamma.

‘That he’s been and gone and bought himself a blinkin’ peacock.’


‘What’s happening to the lady, Daddy?’

A true story. Mr Jarvis had a farm, now a scrap yard, across the field from Meadow Lane, on Jackdaw Lane, Oxford. My sister was actually called Madam by everybody until she got to secondary school. Clark’s got the idea for their shoe advert from her.



The man I wanted to be by Kevin Murphy

The man I wanted to be

Seamus Rooney had the most pluck of any man I ever met. ‘No Bog-trotter like my father’, he swore. He had come over to rebuild England after the war. He brought his Monica gold, but the man that was left after the thousand-ton presses bashed bonnets and boots out of his brain in the flashing dark of the Cowley car plant was not the same man she had married.

They came from emerald country to dim factory; we from dark satanic mills to the city of gleaming spires.

They joined us in the poorest area of North Oxford in forty seven, him seeking more light in Lucy’s Iron foundry; me driving a tax officer’s desk.

He would try anything; change frightened me.

Lucy’s was still hot and noisy – airless. He needed out: one Sunday I stood guard while he circumnavigated a bulldozer. He whistled me; I peeped the all clear. The dozer sparked up and crashed into gear: the behemoth ground forward, crawlers crunched a turn; blade up, blade down; deafening silence; blood roaring in my ears; Seamus by my side; finger to nose, not a word.

On the Monday he told the ganger that he needed a dozer driver – a good one who didn’t ruin his machine. He got the job and the driver got a shovel.

Shorter and younger than me, Seamus was a man I always looked up to. I needed a pal like Seamus to goad me into doing what I really wanted to do, but never dared. Edith was my rock but if ever I needed to strike out for the stars…

Seamus’s biggest wheeze was Christmas forty eight. With rationing still on, we couldn’t afford a turkey if there was one to be had. Christmas Eve, pub turn out time, ears deaf to his ruse. “We’ll have a swan, Paddy!” All was quiet over Port Meadow, where but for the drumming in my chest, I was to stand on one side of the Thames and beat the swans onto his shotgun. Out with my torch, waving and shooing, the swans gathered round the fool throwing the bread. In panic at the empty river before him, Seamus shouted “I’m gonna shoot, Paddy!” letting go both barrels.

He raced back over the Bailey bridge and splashed, chuckled and squashed our mighty swag into the bag. We didn’t sneak back home: “Hol’ your head up Paddy, sure we’re Santa and his elf out on our rounds.”

I told you he had pluck – so did Monica and Edith: Monica to pluck the swan and Edith to pluck stray pellets from my arse. It was our best fed Christmas of the post war decade. We had a laugh, a story and a feast: two feasts really. All plucked and stuffed the swan would fit in neither of our ovens. Seamus cut it in half with an old saw he ‘borrowed’.

Only five years later, a Christmas card from Ireland told of his great success with a Turkey farm.

[A memoir of parents’ early years of marriage]

For my father on his anniversary

For my father on his anniversary

by Kevin Murphy

He needed better air.
He found it by the waters, with the love of his life,
But it was smoke that killed him.

Water wanted his children
So he feared it, he feared it and fought it all his life,
But he didn’t see smoke creep.

Thames, Isis and Cherwell
Ditches, delves, Kidneys and quagmire, keen to take a life,
But it was smoke that choked him.

‘I’ll dig a friendly pool
My children will jump, splash, swim, beat the water and laugh,’
But he couldn’t laugh and smoke.

‘Water fought with fire
For me to see the dive, the stroke, the splash and the laugh!’
and I see water not smoke.

He has found better air,
by the water of life, with the love of his life.
Smoke? Water? Breath easy now.